Whether it’s active outdoor activities like taking a stroll through the city’s Central Market, hiking its nature parks and exploring its famous landmarks, or more laid back indoor attractions such as visiting its many museums, art galleries and shops, San José, Costa Rica, has something for any traveler.
This political, cultural and commercial hub will deliver memorable experiences for visitors through its rich history, active nightlife, world-class coffee, varied landscapes and its wide range of unique activities.
Where to Stay
Barcelo San José
Located in the Uruca District, eight miles from the Juan Santamaria International Airport and three miles from the center of San José, the five-star Barcelo San José has 254 newly renovated rooms and gym. It's also close to the shops, businesses and landmarks like the National Stadium.
The hotel’s three restaurants – Anfora Restaurant, Miyako Restaurant and Rancho Grill – offer distinct culinary experiences, with menus consisting of international, Japanese and grilled dishes.
Active guests can enjoy the hotel’s fitness center with modern equipment and guided yoga, dance and swimming classes, as well as its tennis, racquetball and squash courts.
Hotel Alta Las Palomas
Travelers can enjoy a luxury stay with a view at the Hotel Alta Las Palomas. Set on the hills of Alto de Las Palomas between Escazu and Santa Ana, the hotel places guests above Costa Rica’s Central Valley overlooking country’s mountains and volcanoes. Guests can step outside to the balcony (included in every room and suite) and take in the view.
Rooms include L’occitane en Provenceare amenities and are adorned with handcrafted furnishings, filament lamps, black and white photos of Costa Rica in the 1920s and Italian leather chairs. The Hotel Alta Las Palomas also provides complimentary access to its fitness center and spa, giving guests the opportunity to stay healthy on their vacation.
Guests looking to unwind can sit outside and relax in the hotel’s backyard and outdoor pool area, which features a grand Guanacaste tree that has stood for almost 200 years, making it one of the oldest and largest in all of Costa Rica. The tree has become a standout piece of the property.
Hotel Grano de Oro
Once a Victorian mansion, this converted property in the heart of the city has 38 guestrooms and suites with luxury amenities, a high-end French Mediterranean restaurant, massage services, a rooftop garden terrace with two Jacuzzis and more.
The more elegant suites at Hotel Grano de Oro have private gardens, views of the Central Valley, living areas furnished with antiques and even in-room Jacuzzis. For larger groups, the Family Suite is an ideal choice, which consists of two rooms with an adjoining bath and enough space for five people.
Intercontinental Costa Rica
Placed within the Multiplaza Mall complex in the heart of Escazu, the Intercontinental Costa Rica puts guests steps away from designer stores like Kenneth Cole, Armani Exchange and Calvin Klein, along with myriad restaurants and bars. The hotel itself has four eateries, including a sushi bar and an Italian restaurant, plus a lobby bar with light bites and live music.
Guests can unwind at the spa, or they can sit and relax near the heated pools that are surrounded by tropical gardens.
Additionally, the hotel’s concierge is available to arrange or recommend various tours that explore San José’s landmarks, museums, parks, coffee plantations and more.
Photo by repistu/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
The National Theatre of Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica is an architectural marvel and perhaps the most renowned building in San José. Opened in 1897, the theater contains a “neo-classical” aesthetic and contains large murals, sculptures, marble floors and pillars, extravagant chandeliers, bronze lamps and other elegant designs.
The theater’s ceiling murals landed a spot on USA Today’s list of “10 great ceilings around the world.” Plus, guests can also see the famous painting, “The Allegory to the Coffee and the Bananas,” by Italian artist Aleardo Villa.
Guests can take a guided tour of the building or they can attend one of the operas, ballets, musicals or plays that are held in the auditorium.
Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
Travelers can get a view into Costa Rica’s culture and history at the country’s National Museum, located in the Bellavista Fortress. Inside, guests will find historical and religious artifacts, furniture, photos, works of art, gold and other metals, local flora and fauna on display, artifacts belonging to ancient civilizations and more.
Not only does it house historically significant artifacts, the museum itself is part of Cost Rican history. Established back in 1887, this museum is housed in the Bellavista, the former headquarters of the Costa Rican army and the place where president Jose Figueres abolished the military after a bloody civil war. In fact, you can still see bullet holes on the building’s exterior.
Parque de Diversiones
Thrill-seekers will have plenty to do at the Parque de Diversiones amusement park. Guests can enjoy roller coasters, water coasters, bumper cars and drop towers. Plus, those traveling with kids can take advantage of the children’s attractions that are geared toward the young ones.
In addition to rides and games, Parque de Diversiones has a food court with five restaurants, candy and ice creams shops, and convenience stores for any essentials that guests may need.
La Sabana Metropolitan Park
La Sabana, referred to as “the lungs of San José,” is the largest park in Costa Rica, offering open recreational spaces to hang out, tennis courts, sports fields, lakes, marked jogging tracks and many other active experiences.
The park is also home to famous buildings such as the Museo de Arte Costarricense art museum and the National Stadium, which was completed and opened in 2011. The $100 million stadium has become a popular spot for concerts and major sporting events, and it now serves as the home stadium for the Costa Rican national soccer team.
During their travels through the park, guests can stop for snack at one of the many small food stands, or just relax and set up a picnic under the trees.
The Central Market or “Mercado Central” in San José, established in 1882, is the city’s oldest market and a hub of culture and activity with over 200 stores and upwards of 20,000 daily visitors. The block-long market on Avenida Central is home to cafés, bars, restaurants, and shops selling anything from coffee, spices and cooked Costa Rican dishes to clothes and souvenirs.
Where to Eat
Photo by gmirandah/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
La Esquina de Buenos Aires
At La Esquina de Buenos Aires, guests can enjoy a menu of Argentinian and Latin cuisine, including cooked-to-order grilled meats, house-made empanadas, traditional entrees, pasta dishes and more.
Guests can complement their meals with a full menu of cocktails, mixed drinks, beer and South American wines.
For a view that can’t be beat, travelers can head to Mirador Tiquicia. Located over 4,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of Escazu, this restaurant showcases uninterrupted views of the Central Valley region below, which is made up of the provinces of Alajuela, Heredia, San José and Cartago.
While they enjoy the one-of-a-kind view, guests can dine on a traditional buffet of Costa Rican cuisine, enjoy live music every Friday and Saturday, and then experience a folkloric Costa Rican dance show.
Couples can also arrange their wedding reception on the restaurant’s deck area, which holds up to 150 people.
Tin Jo Asian Restaurant
Want to switch it up from the traditional Costa Rican cuisine? Tin Jo is a worthy alternative. The restaurant offers a blend of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai and Southeast Asian cuisine, from sushi and stir-fry to chicken curry and Pad Krapao.
The restaurant contains themed rooms named after the Asian countries that owner Maria Hon and her husband Roberto visited in their travels to Asia. The Bamboo Room, Indonesian Room, Indian Room, Chinese Room, Nandini Lounge, Thai Roo, and Japan Room are uniquely designed and decorated for a distinct dining experience.
Couples looking for a romantic evening can take advantage of the Tin Jo’s new event, “Wednesday of Candles,” held every week. In the restaurant’s Bamboo Room, guests enjoy tables only for two and a candle-lit dinner with wine and poetry readings.
Given Costa Rica’s long history with coffee, it is only natural to visit a café while you’re there. Coffee-lovers will enjoy the Espresso Bar that offers freshly-brewed coffee, lattes, cappuccinos and mochas. However, Café Mundo serves more than just coffee: Its food options include bento bowls, soups, salads, sandwiches, appetizers and homemade desserts.